Feast of the Holy Family
This weekend, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The Book of Sirach supplies the first reading. Sirach was composed in an effort to reinforce trust in, and loyalty to, the Revelation of God. When Sirach was written, Jews were beset by attacks upon their beliefs that came from a hostile and pagan culture. Allurements to abandon the old beliefs were everywhere. After all, those persons who merrily lived the “good life” were pagans.
In particular, the Jewish concept of the holiness of the home and of marriage was threatened. In many pagan settings, love was absent or at best coincidental. This was the case in many homes and in most marriages.
Sirach affirms the place that parents must have in families. The ideal parent is the father or mother who places first and foremost devotion to God, because loving God and making this love evident is a parent’s greatest gift in love to a child. In return, children love and care for parents and obey them.
Love is the essential adhesive that binds children to parents, spouses to each other, and families together. God gives children to parents, but also God give parents to children.
For its second reading, the Church presents the Letter to the Colossians. Colossians arose within its own cultural context, the prevailing, powerful culture of the Roman Empire.
To assume from this reading that early Christianity belittled women or tolerated conditions that suppressed or even hurt women, is quite wrong. The exact opposite is the case. This reading makes this fact crystal clear, coming from a time in which women were little higher than livestock.
Marriage was a reality in the Roman society, but women did not themselves choose their husbands. Men often bought their wives.
Almost glorified slaves, wives were relegated to the roles of providing offspring, of furnishing outlets for their husband’s natural desires, and of making husbands comfortable.
More than setting mere standards of behavior, however, the letter elevated women. Women were individual humans with God-given dignity.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is a story unique to Luke. As has been heard or read so often, Jesus is a boy of 12 years of age, at the doorstep of adulthood. With Mary and Joseph, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover.
He was not with Mary and Joseph, however, as they were returning home. Missing Jesus, understandably anxious, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. He was found in the temple discoursing with the scholars, who were amazed at the depth of the knowledge of Jesus.
He alluded to the messianic mission when questioned by Mary. She “kept these things in her heart” long after the event.
On this feast, the Church speaks in terms profoundly human and understandable.
Often a motive behind ancient Hebrew writings was the wish to convey to children, for their benefit; children are one of the treasures of knowing God. It reminds us that this still is an opportunity, and indeed a demand, for parents, but it gleams with parental love.
The New Testament was revolutionary in that it utterly rejected the Roman culture’s view of marriage, of women and for that matter, of children.
A spouse is God’s gift to the other. Of course, this fact creates responsibilities and is fulfilled only by mutual love. Children are gifts from God.
Finally, the story of Jesus lost in Jerusalem, and the worry of Mary and Joseph, presents a very human situation. Simply put, they loved the young Lord. He loved them.
He loved God.
This feast delivers a powerful lesson as we await the new year, a lesson of love, human love and of God’s love.
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